31 August 2012

Encyclicals of Patriarch Batholomew & Archbishop Demetrios for the Indiction, the New Ecclesiastical Year, 7521

Prot. No. 718
By the Mercy of God
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome
And Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Fullness of the Church
Grace and Peace from the Creator
and Sustainer of All Creation
Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ

*   *   *

Beloved brothers and children in the Lord,

Our God, who created the universe and formed the earth as a perfect dwelling place for humanity, granted us the commandment and possibility to increase, multiply and fulfill creation, with dominion over all animals and plants.

The world that surrounds us was thus offered to us as a gift by our Creator as an arena of social activity but also of spiritual sanctification in order that we might inherit the creation to be renewed in the future age. Such has always been the theological position of the Holy Great Church of Christ, which is the reason why we have pioneered an ecological effort on behalf of the sacred Ecumenical Throne for the protection of our planet, which has long suffered from us both knowingly and unknowingly.

Of course, biodiversity is the work of divine wisdom and was not granted to humanity for its unruly control. By the same token, dominion over the earth and its environs implies rational use and enjoyment of its benefits, and not destructive acquisition of its resources out of a sense of greed. Nevertheless, especially in our times, we observe an excessive abuse of natural resources, resulting in the destruction of the environmental balance of the planet’s ecosystems and generally of ecological conditions, so that the divinely-ordained regulations of human existence on earth are increasingly transgressed. For instance, all of us – scientists, as well as religious and political leaders, indeed all people – are witnessing a rise in the atmosphere’s temperature, extreme weather conditions, the pollution of ecosystems both on land and in the sea, and an overall disturbance – sometimes to the point of utter destruction – of the potential for life in some regions of the world.

Inasmuch as the Mother Church perceives and evaluates the ensuing dangers of such ecological conditions for humanity, already from the time of our blessed predecessor, Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, established September 1st of each year as a day of prayer for the natural environment. Yet, we are obliged to admit that the causes of the aforementioned ecological changes are not inspired by God but initiated by humans. Thus, the invocation and supplication of the Church and us all to God as the Lord of lords and Ruler of all for the restoration of creation are essentially a petition of repentance for our sinfulness in destroying the world instead of working to preserve and sustain its ever-flourishing resources reasonably and carefully.

When we pray to and entreat God for the preservation of the natural environment, we are ultimately imploring God to change with mindset of the powerful in the world, enlightening them not to destroy the planet’s ecosystem for reasons of financial profit and ephemeral interest. This in turn, however, also concerns each one of us inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage in our individual capacity and ignorance. Therefore, in praying for the natural environment, we are praying for personal repentance for our contribution – smaller or greater – to the disfigurement and destruction of creation, which we collectively experience regionally and occasionally through the immense phenomena of our time.

In addressing this appeal, petition and exhortation from the sacred Center of Orthodoxy to all people throughout the world, we pray that our gracious Lord, who granted this earthly paradise to all people dwelling on our planet, will speak to the hearts of everyone so that we may respect the ecological balance that He offered in His wisdom and goodness, so that both we and future generations will enjoy His gifts with thanksgiving and glorification.

May this divine wisdom, peace and power, which created and sustains and guides all creation in its hope for salvation in the kingdom, always maintain the beauty of the world and the welfare of humanity, leading all people of good will to produce fruitful works toward this purpose. And we invoke His grace and mercy on all of you, particularly those who respect and protect creation.


September 1, 2012

Protocol 109/12
September 1, 2012
Beginning of the Ecclesiastical New Year
Day for the Protection of our Natural Environment

To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We begin this new ecclesiastical year in worship of our Almighty God offering Him praise and thanksgiving for His great mercy.  In our hymns and prayers on this day, we ask for all that we need for life and service, seeking to walk in communion with Him.  Through our commitment to prayer, our participation in the commemorations and observances of the Church, and our offering for the promotion of His kingdom, we find renewed hope in an abundant life in Christ.

On this feast we ask our Lord, “Bless the crown of this year with Your goodness” (Psalm 65:11).  We know that His goodness is true and enduring.  His goodness is rooted in His love for us, and in this goodness He nurtures and sustains our lives.   Through our trust in God, our lives are filled with His goodness, and consequently we become witnesses of the joy He has granted us.

We also ask Him to keep us in peace.  While we know that peace is a cherished condition for tranquil and secure lives in this world, we also recognize that this peace is often temporary or frequently challenged.  Certainly, we seek peaceful times, but we also affirm that true peace comes from Christ.  Our Lord said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid(John 14:27).

It is in His goodness and peace that we also ask our Lord to bless all of our endeavors in the opening year and to “guide the work of our hands.”  Following His direction in all that we do ensures that we will produce great spiritual fruit in our lives and the lives of others.  Dedicating ourselves to Him keeps our hearts and minds in His will and fills our actions and words with His holiness and grace.  When we acknowledge Christ in all our ways, our goals and intentions are pure, lives are transformed, and He is glorified.

It is also on this feast that we observe the Day for the Protection of our Natural Environment.  This day has been established by our beloved Ecumenical Patriarchate in recognition that the goodness, peace, and guidance of God extend to all of the created order and to our stewardship of it.  In goodness our Creator made everything and proclaimed that it was good (Genesis 1:31).  Into a fallen world groaning under the burden of corruption, He has brought true peace.  He has shown us the way of peace, so that we may live in proper relationship with our natural environment and with each other awaiting the deliverance into the “glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).  Our Lord also gives us guidance in our stewardship and care of all that He has made.  By His example and teaching, we know that the life of grace includes the natural world, and He directs us to protect and preserve it in love.

As we begin this ecclesiastical year together in worship and fellowship, I pray that the Lord will bless you, your families, and your parish with a year filled with His goodness and peace.

With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America

12 August 2012

Prayer at the Blessing of Vehicles of Travel

We had our new (to us) car blessed yesterday after Vespers, so I wanted to share this shortened version of the Orthodox Service of Blessing Cars. The blessing that Father Vasile did was much longer.

Presbyter: Let us pray to the Lord.

Choir: Kyrie eleison.

Presbyter: O Master, Lord our God, hearken unto the prayer which we now send up to You, and bless this vehicle with Your holy right hand (+); send down upon it Thy guardian Angel, that all who desire to journey therein may be safely preserved and shielded from every evil end; and as the Ethiopian, riding in the chariot and reading of Your holy prophecy, was granted faith and Grace through Your Apostle Philip.

So do You now manifest the path of salvation to Your servants who shall travel in this conveyance, that with Your helping grace they may be clothed upon with good works and after the completion of this life may be vouchsafed' everlasting joy in Your heavenly Kingdom. For Yours is the might, and the Kingdom, and the power, and unto You do we send up glory to Father, and to Son, and to Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

The presbyter sprinkles all over the vehicle with Holy Water, saying:

May Christ our true God, through the intercessions of His all-pure Mother, through the protection of the bodiless powers, of the holy, glorious and all praise worthy Apostles, and of St. Nicholas, and all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us, as He is good and loves mankind.

Liturgical Texts courtesy and copyright of Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA

09 August 2012

Saint Xenia the Righteous Deaconess of Rome

Saint Xenia (ξενία) the Righteous Deaconess of Rome was a saint of 5th century, honored by the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican Churches. St. Xenia of Rome was born with the name Eusebia; she grew up in a distinguished family. While her parents were preparing to wed her in an arranged marriage, she stole away secretly, taking two handmaids with her.

She traveled to the island of Kos in the Aegean Sea, where she was given the name “Xenia” and eventually became a deaconess revered for having the power to heal. She was ordained deaconess by Presbyter (priest) Paul, her spiritual father, who became Bishop of Mylasa and Karia in Asia Minor. Although she was originally named Eusebia, to conceal her identity, she took the name Xenia which means “stranger” in Greek because of her estrangement from her home-country.

Saint Xenia often stood all night in prayer, fasted, and humbled herself before God and others. She was a shining light to all and followed her Saviour in meekness and humility. Of her is written that she “helped everyone: for the destitute, she was a benefactress; for the grief-stricken, a comforter; for sinners, a guide to repentance. She possessed a deep humility, accounting herself the worst and most sinful of all“.

She lived out her life uniting herself to Christ in body, word, and thought. When it was her time to leave this earthly life in AD 450, she gave her bright soul into the hands of Christ, Who brought this pure dove into His Never-Ending Kingdom. At the time of her death, a brilliant cross brighter than the sun appeared over her monastery wreathed in a circle of stars, showing her life was pleasing to God.

She is said to have foreseen her own death; at the island of Kos in the Aegean Sea she completed her ascetic life. The Feast of Saint Xenia is celebrated in the Orthodox Church on January 24, the day on which she died.

08 August 2012

The Orthodox Wedding Ceremony

The wedding ceremony in the Greek Orthodox Church is an ancient and meaningful service that has been celebrated in its present form for centuries. The service is abundant with symbols that reflect marriage: love, mutual respect, equality and sacrifice.

The ceremony consists of two parts which are distinct and separate from each other: the Service of Betrothal and the Service of Crowning. Everything in the ceremony has a special meaning and significance, especially the repetition of each act three times to symbolize and to invoke the mystical presence of the Holy Trinity.

The Service of Betrothal
Petitions are chanted for the spiritual welfare of the couple. The highlight during this service is the blessing and exchanging of the rings. The presbyter (priest) holds the rings in his right hand, and making the sign of the cross over their heads, betroths the servants of God, the bride to the groom. The rings are then placed on their right hands, for it is the right hand of God that blesses, it was the right hand of God to which Christ ascended, and it is also to the right that those who will inherit the eternal life will ascend.

The koumbaro or koumbara (religious sponsor) then exchanges the rings three times. The exchange signifies that in married life, the weakness of one partner will be compensated by the strength of the other, the imperfections of one, by the perfection of the other. By themselves, the newly betrothed are incomplete, but together they are made perfect. The rite of the betrothal ends with the priest praying for the firmness of the betrothal, in true faith, concord and love.

The Service of Crowning
The crowning service consists of the prayers, the crowning, the scripture readings, offering of the common cup, and the circling of the ceremonial table or the “dance of Isaiah”. At the conclusion of the prayers, the priest joins the hands of the bride and the groom. The hands are kept joined until the end of the service to symbolize the union and the oneness of the couple.

The Crowning
The wedding crowns (stefana) are signs of the glory and honour with which God crowns the bride and groom during the sacrament. The crowns are joined by a ribbon which symbolizes unity, and the presence of Christ who blesses and joins the couple and establishes them as the king and queen of their home, which they will rule with wisdom, justice and integrity. The priest takes the two crowns and blesses the bride and the groom, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and then places the crowns on them. The koumbaro or koumbara then steps behind the bride and the groom and interchanges the crowns three times as a witness to the sealing of the union.

Some interpret the crowns used in the Orthodox wedding ceremony to refer to the crowns of Martyrdom since every true marriage involves immeasurable self sacrifice on both sides.

The Scripture Readings and the Common Cup
The rite of crowning is followed by the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel. The Gospel reading describes the marriage at Cana of Galilee which was attended and blessed by Christ and for which He reserved His first miracle. There He converted the water into wine and gave it to the newlyweds. The change of water into wine in Cana points to the change of the old into the new, a passage from death to life. As the rest of the crowning service, it announces the possibility of transforming the natural order of things into joyful celebration of God’s presence among men.

In remembrance of this blessing, wine is given to the couple. This is the "common cup" of life denoting the mutual sharing of joy and sorrow, the token of a life of harmony. The drinking of wine from the common cup serves to impress upon the couple that from that moment on they will share everything in life, joys, as well as sorrows. Their joys will be doubled and their sorrows halved because they will be shared.

The Ceremonial Walk or "Dance of Esias/Isaiah"
The priest then leads the bride and the groom three times in a circular procession around the table on which are placed the Gospel and the Cross. The koumbaro or koumbara follows behind, holding the crowns over their heads. The bride and the groom are taking their first steps as a married couple, and the church, in the person of the priest, leads them in the way they must walk. As in the case of the rings, the circle is a symbol of eternity and emphasizes marriage as a permanent commitment.

During this ceremonial walk, a hymn is sung to the Holy Martyrs reminding the newly married couple of the sacrificial love they are to have for each other in marriage - a love that seeks not its own but is willing to sacrifice its all for the one loved.

At the conclusion of the ceremonial walk, the priest removes the crowns from the bride and the groom and beseeches God to grant to the newlyweds a long, happy and fruitful life together. He then lifts up the Gospel and separates their joined hands, reminding them that only God can separate the couple from one another.

The Wedding Favours
The sugar coated almonds (koufeta), which were placed on the tray with the crowns and which will later be offered to the guests are also symbolic. In the early days of the Church, honey dipped almonds were offered to the newlyweds by the priest. The white symbolizes purity. The egg shape represents fertility and the new life which begins with marriage. The hardness of the almond represents the endurance of marriage and the sweetness of the sugar symbolizes the sweetness of future life. The odd number of almonds given to each guest is indivisible, just as the bride and the groom shall remain undivided.

07 August 2012

Orthodox Prayers for a Pregnant Mother and her Unborn Child

PRAYER ONE: O Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ our God, the Source of life and immortality, I thank Thee, for in my marriage Thou has blest me to be a recipient of Thy blessing and gift; for Thou, O Master, didst say: Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. I thank Thee and pray: Bless this fruit of my body that was given to me by Thee; favor it and animate it by Thy Holy Spirit, and let it grow a healthy and pure body, with well-formed limbs. Sanctify its body, mind, heart, and vitals, and grant this infant that is to be born an intelligent soul; establish him in the fear of Thee. A faithful angel, a guardian of soul and body, do thou vouchsafe him. Protect, keep, strengthen, and shelter the child in my womb until the hour of his birth. But conceal him not in his mother's womb; Thou gavest him life and health. O Lord Jesus Christ, into Thine almighty and paternal hands do I entrust my child. Place him upon the right hand of Thy grace, and through Thy Holy Spirit sanctify him and renew him unto life everlasting, that he may be a comminucant of Thy Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.

PRAYER TWO: O All-Merciful Christ our God, look down and protect me, Thy handmaiden, from fear and from evil spirits that seek to destroy the work of Thy hands. And when my hour and time is come, deliver me by Thy grace. Look with compassionate eye and deliver me, Thy handmaiden, from pain. Lighten mine infirmity in the time of my travail and grant me fortitude and strength for birthgiving, and hasten it by Thine almighty help. For this is Thy glorious work, the power of Thine omnipotence, the work of Thy grace and tender-heartedness. Amen.

PRAYER THREE: My most gracious Queen, my hope, O Mother of God, the joy of those in sorrow, help me, for I am helpless. Intercede thou and pray thy Son, Christ our God, that He lighten for me this season while I am with child, and that He ease the burden of heaviness of me, this unworthy handmaiden, and bestow His blessings upon the child to which I am giving birth. For I know no other help save thee, no other hope save thee, O Mother of God that will guard and protect me and my child. For by thine intercession and help we send up glory and thanksgiving for all things unto the One God in Trinity, the Creator of all, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

06 August 2012

The Blessings of... ...Everything!

 In Orthodox Christianity we do annual blessings on certain ancient feats of the year. Here are a few of them:
  • Blessing of the Waters & Houses on Theophany (6 January)

  • Blessing of Candles, Feast of the Meeting/Presentation of our Lord (2 February 40 days after the Nativity)

  • Blessing of Palms/Willows, Feast of the Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem (1 Week Before Pascha)

  • Blessing of Baskets of Meats, Chesses, Eggs, Butter, Wines, Oils, and Breads on Pascha (Movable Feast)

  • Blessing of Fruit (Usually Grapes and/or Apples) on the Feast of Transfiguration (6 August)

  • Blessing of Flowers on the Feast of the Dormition (15 August)

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